Movie Review: It
By Matthew Huntley
September 20, 2017
The other children include the chubby yet intelligent history buff Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor); the beautiful and daring Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis); the foul-mouthed class clown, Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard); the pragmatic and timid Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff); the paranoid germaphobe, Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer); and the brave and moral Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). Collectively, they become known as “The Losers' Club” as Pennywise attempts to get inside their heads and exploit their deepest, darkest fears, whether that's being overweight and bullied at school; sexually abused at the hands of a parent; attacked by an evil female portrait in a synagogue; germs and infectious diseases; or the idea you may caused your parents' death. Pennywise, we learn, comes out of hibernation every 27 years and is a staple of Derry's troubling history, which none of the town's adults talk about.
In addition to Pennywise, the Losers must also face ridicule and threats from the school bully, Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton), and his cronies. Henry proves just as dangerous as the clown, wielding a knife and gun to compensate for his own securities with his police officer-father (Stuart Hughes).
With so many characters, it's remarkable how well divided the film is so that each of the kids gets individualized, not to mention how their scenes as a group, many of which are light and playful and underline the story's theme of friendship, carry real emotion. We come to care about these youngsters and view them as real people, and not just for their survival's sake, but because we can relate to their coming-of-age experiences, which are true and universal. Muschietti knows how fragile, urgent and formative these years are and uses a lot of sensitivity to convey them. This is why “It” is such a good movie beyond its horror aspect—we're not just waiting around for the next scary scene to come along; we're engaged by it on the level of the characters growing and maturing.
Yes, the purpose of a horror film is to scare us, but somewhere along the line, the Hollywood horror film got out of control, becoming a non-stop shock fest and allotting little if no time to the characters' personalities and problems outside the main conflict, thus relegating them as boring, would-be victims. Not here. We care just as much about their budding romances and adolescent insecurities as much as whether or not Pennywise will eat them.
And speaking of scaring us, “It” actually does. The scenes with Pennywise are legitimately horrific and the studio wisely opted for a hard R-rating, allowing the filmmakers to go to town with violence and gore and deliver a truly riveting, frightening experience. This was something the TV miniseries wasn't able to to do, which not only makes this version more faithful to the source but also results in a greater visceral impact. Just like the kids, we fear such things as our limbs being torn off, or being bitten by razor-sharp teeth, or going down into a dark, damp basement alone, or being beaten up by fellow students and having adults drive by idly and not lend help.
“It” is a horror film first and foremost, and a first-rate one at that. We walk out of it genuinely shaken up and disturbed. But it's also a touching human story about pre-adolescent angst, friendship, first romances, childhood tragedy and trauma. These were all prevailing themes in King's novel and Muschietti hasn't allowed any of them to fall by the wayside. Together, they give the movie an unexpected depth and help make the horror elements that much more effective and lasting.